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Poster: hseamons Date: Jun 3, 2012 9:44am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: TDIH - First Wheel, Samson


June 3, 1976 was a day of firsts for the Grateful Dead in Portland. It was the band’s first tour opener since September 9, 1974 at London’s extravagant Alexandra Palace. More notably, it was their first show since the hiatus in 1975 that still gave us four jewels of shows to remember. Like other historic, well played shows that featured a series of new songs – such as the famous Capitol Theatre run in ’71 that gave birth to “Bertha” and six other songs, or the astonishing first show of ’73 at Stanford University that featured six new songs, including a very well played “Eyes of the World” – here we get a host of fresh beats and astral melodies unlike ever before.

“Might as Well,” the very first song of ’76, is an upbeat tune that memorializes the Trans-Continental Pop Festival, or Festival Express tour, which saw the Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and others joining forces to “bring on the party where they need it the most,” in May of 1970. You might as well add it to the pantheon of Grateful Dead songs about trains.

With its exploratory yet tight jamming, the “Lazy Lightning/Supplication” pairing is one of my favorite Barlow/Weir tunes that always seems to tap into a reserve energy supply that charges up a set. While still having a laid-back vibe in its initial performances, the song would really find its electrifying glory in the spring of ’77. “Lazy Lightning” well describes the relaxed yet tight sound that was emerging during this period, where one would often hear super slow versions of “Row Jimmy” or “Tennessee Jed” in the first set, or a sleepy rendition of “Crazy Fingers” to kick it back a bit and drift down the languid Dead River. A slow version of “They Love Each Other” was now being played regularly after being virtually off the map in ‘74, along with “Candyman,” another slow, lingering song that was finding its way back into rotation, also absent in ’74.

The noticeably laid-back feeling of early ’76, while reminiscent of the golden sweetness of ’73, has caused many a Deadhead to underrate or simply overlook this very fertile year, especially given the epic playing exhibited the following spring (a la May ’77). The more relaxed tempos in the songs, however, were usually counterbalanced with massive doses of sonic energy in a show. This Portland recording boasts soaring, scintillating versions of “Let It Grow” and “Scarlet Begonias,” after which an audience member remarks, “Well, I don’t think they’ve fallen apart,” as though there had been some concern as to whether the hiatus, or simply the eight months since the last Dead show, had any negative effect on the band. Clearly it had not: the new “get your groove on” number from the Dead’s last great album, Blues for Allah, appropriately called “The Music Never Stopped,” and the disco-fied debut of “Dancin’ in the Streets,” enhanced by Garcia’s reverby wah-wah licks, reveals that the Dead were ready to make folk dance more than ever at the Paramount Theatre.

Which brings us to the fourth new song performed that fine, Oregonian evening, “Samson and Delilah,” which got people to boogie down in a more biblical fashion. Weir picked up the bluesy rocker from Reverend Gary Davis, based on the old Blind Willie Johnson tune, “If I Had My Way, I Would Tear This Building Down,” and it remained a staple Weir tune for the rest of the band’s career.

And as if there was not enough velvet thunder and rope-of-fire lightning in the show, the Dead’s last – new and well played – song for the evening, “The Wheel,” returns to the cosmic storm for an encore: “If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will!” Written in the summer of 1971 with Kreutzmann and Hunter as part of Garcia’s first, self-titled solo album, it somehow never made it into a Dead show for five years. A gospel hymn of sorts, “The Wheel” chants its own proverbial wisdom: “Small wheel turn by the fire and rod / Big wheel turn by the grace of God / Every time that wheel turn round / Bound to cover just a little more ground.” The album version is pure ecstasy, with pulsating slide guitars and ethereal vocals. The Dead bring this taste of heaven to the Paramount Theatre for the first time, and it gracefully concludes the night in the same vein as its last position on the Garcia album.

Just when we thought we couldn’t add any more firsts to the 6/3/76 list, it would not be too insignificant to mention that although it was the second ever performance of “Cassidy” – the first being on March 23, 1974 at Cow Palace – it was the first version, in over two years, WITHOUT the “Doo-doo-do-do-doo!” interlude, as though the 60’s had not quite ended in ’74, or something of that nature.